by Todd Miller
Published in 2014 by City Lights Books.
Border Patrol Nation
Reviewed by Trilla Pando.
The headlines scream: immigration, deportation, terrorism, homeland security. I feel like folding the paper and going and standing in my sunny garden, not only because those headlines scare me, but also because I don’t understand half of what most of the articles are talking about. Or rather, I didn’t until I read seasoned journalist Todd Miller’s book, Border Patrol Nation.
Now I can distinguish ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) from USBP (U.S. Border Patrol) from DHS (Department of Homeland Security). I better understand the power of these and other agencies. It’s almost total. The book is riveting from the first page—especially the first page. It’s a map of the Border Patrol 100 Mile Zone. Within 100 miles from any U.S. international border or coast USBP can make warrantless arrests. Wait. I live in that belt; so does over two-thirds of the population. Probably more than that, as Miller points out, any city with international flights is now on the border. This is an issue that affects us all.
We all want to be safe. Yes, work harder, even harder to keep the terrorists out. Yes, the laws of the country should be observed and enforced. Yet things seem to have rampaged way beyond that on many levels. Focus has become foci. The services concentrate not only on preventing illegal entry but on deporting people already here, sometimes for a very long time. Even U.S. citizens have been deported. All of this has to be paid for. Paid for with taxes that might have gone to schools, or streets, or fill-in-the-blank.
A hard story, yes. But told here engagingly. Locales shift. We begin in Miami at the Super Bowl, move on to Arizona. Later we see Detroit, Texas—even Haiti. And we learn the stories of the people who are affected making those statistics take on real life.
Toward the end the stories get longer and it is hard not to get involved in them. I had to resist the temptation to e-mail Miller and ask how Maria de los Angeles is doing back in Naco, Mexico. She voluntarily returned after years in South Carolina leaving behind children and grandchildren. She could no longer endure the constant harassment. U.S. citizen Abdallah Matthews is promised anytime that he re-enters the U.S. from Canada at Port Huron, Michigan, he can expect to be handcuffed, questioned, and harassed—sometimes by a boyhood friend. The final and possibly most poignant account is Miller’s own when he returns to his boyhood home of Niagara Falls to find a new border-patrolled world.
This book can easily serve as a reference with its accurate numbers, and its description not only of how the nation stands today but how it got there. It’s a fine slice of American history. Miller’s journalistic style makes this an interesting but upsetting read. A book worth keeping.

Trilla Pando holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Houston; she taught in both Texas and Georgia. Her research focused on women in Texas and Houston. The Bainbridge (Georgia) Post-Searchlight published her weekly column on food and local history. She now lives and works in Houston.
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